Stop! You’ve been been pouring tea all wrong

Chocolate afternoon tea at Brown's Hotel
Chocolate afternoon tea at Brown's Hotel. Credit: Brown's Hotel

Afternoon tea is popular in Britain. Whether tea is poured from a ceramic or a silver teapot can make all the difference. We asked some of our favourite tearooms – from Bettys in Yorkshire to The Goring in London what they use

British silversmiths created the perfect non-drip teapot in the 1600s, at least according to The London Silver Vaults. Silversmiths realised that metal is far thinner than ceramic and it is the thinness of the spout of a silver teapot which prevents its dripping. Silver also conducts heat well, so tea stays hotter for longer. A ceramic teapot spout is often chipped during washing up, unlike silver ones.

“Imagine how many ceramic teapots the average household gets through in a lifetime, not to mention dealing with the tea-stained tablecloth,” says Steven Linden, Chairman of The London Silver Vaults Association. “A silver teapot lasts longer and

Teapot from tthe London Silver Vaults
Pots of silver at the London Silver Vaults

always provides the perfect drip-free pouring action. I would happily challenge anyone to achieve a perfectly-poured, non-drip cup of tea as many times in a row as you would from a silver or silver-plated teapot, whatever the design. Silversmiths can achieve a perfect pouring spout, and have been doing so since the 1600s.”

In recent years, establishments such as The Wolseley cafe-restaurant in St James’, London and Claridge’s, Mayfair’s art-deco hotel, have returned to using silver-plated tea and coffee pots (which they source from The London Silver Vaults), because they realise the overall qualities of silver provide a better ‘tea experience’ than a ceramic pot.

You can find several hundred silver and silver-plated teapots, from all periods, at The London Silver Vaults. The vaults were established in 1953 and house more than 30 specialist silver shops with antique English silver for sale, as well as modern and contemporary designs. You’ll find them at the corner of Chancery Lane and Southampton Buildings, London WC2.

Several other BRITAIN magazine favourite venues are also fans of silver or silver-plated teapots.

Badgers Tea House

In East Sussex, the charming town of Alfriston is home to the National Trust’s first property, the Clergy House, and, just off Market Square, Badgers Tea House, in a building, formerly a bakery, which celebrates its 500th birthday next year. All their cakes and scones are baked daily by your hosts Michael Luttig and Lynn Attfield, and you can take tea in the walled garden if the weather allows. Michael has long been converted to using silver and silver-plated teapots. “I’ve got over 30, all individual pieces collected over the years, which I introduced here because they don’t drip and don’t chip.”

Bettys Cafe Tea Rooms

Bettys tearoom in Harrogate, Yorkshire
Bettys tearoom in Harrogate, Yorkshire

In Yorkshire, Bettys Cafe Tea Rooms, winners of the Tea Guild’s Awards of Excellence 2009, were founded by Swiss confectioner Frederick Belmont in 1919. Thereare now six to enjoy: the spa town of Harrogate has two branches (one in the town centre and a second at the RHS garden at Harlow Carr) as does York (Little Bettys is just around the corner from its elder sister in Stonegate), and you’ll also find Bettys in the market towns of Northallerton and Ilkley.

Head up to the Yorkshire coast and, at the historic port of Whitby with its cobbled streets and ruined clifftop abbey, you’ll find Botham’s, founded in 1865 by Elizabeth Botham and run today by her great-grandchildren. Another winner of the Tea Guild Award of Excellence 2009, Botham’s has a delightful olde-worlde atmosphere, waitresses in white aprons, and the cakes and pastries are made from Victorian recipes.

Brown’s Hotel

Another convert is The English Tea Room at Rocco Forte’s Brown’s Hotel in Mayfair London, has been named The Tea Guild’s Top London Afternoon Tea 2009. This accolade is the star or rosette of the tea world, with inspectors travelling around the country anonymously to seek out winners. James Brown established his hotel for ‘genteel’ folk in 1837 and Agatha Christie later wrote

At Bertram’s Hotel here, no doubt enjoying afternoon tea in The English Tea Room. The English Tea Room at Brown’s Hotel combines a luxurious and elegant ambience with extremely friendly and efficient service,” said Irene Gorman, Head of The Tea Guild. “The food and teas were absolutely exquisite, both in their presentation and taste. The staff have been well trained, really know their teas and are very happy to advise customers on their choice of tea – you can even take home a sample of the blend you have enjoyed.”

The Royal Yacht Britannia, Scotland

If you’re in Edinburgh, you can enjoy afternoon tea in a royal environment at The Royal Deck Tearoom on the The Royal Yacht Britannia. This world-famous floating royal residence used to take the Her Majesty The Queen and the royal family around the world and is now a permanent visitor attraction in Edinburgh’s historic port of Leith. The Royal Deck would have been used by the Royal Family for cocktail parties and receptions but you can now enjoy a waitress-served afternoon tea in this stunning location after a tour of the ship, with great views over the harbour.

Rocke Cottage Tea Rooms

The Rocke Cottage Tea Rooms in Clungunford, Shropshire offers a delicious menu of regional goodies, including Shropshire Blue Ploughmans and cream teas with butter and clotted cream from the Dairy House in nearby Weobley. In Karin’s 400-year-old cottage, now a member of the Tea Guild, the teapots are designed to take customers back in time to the Twenties and Thirties, and background music from that era adds to the mood.

Yynshire Hall, Wales

However, Ynyshir Hall near Machynlleth in northern Wales challenges the rule of silver. This Georgian manor house, once owned by Queen Victoria and now a Von Essen country house hotel, offers a Welsh Afternoon Tea with a twist – Bara Brith with clotted cream and jam. Cate Griffiths of Ynyshir Hall tells me, “We have bone china teapots and they don’t drip at all!”.

The Goring

Afternoon tea at The Goring, London
Afternoon tea at The Goring, London

And The Goring, a Pride of Britain Hotel near Buckingham Palace in London, agrees. The Goring is the only family-run, five-star hotel in London: Jeremy Goring is the fourth to run it since his great-grandfather built and opened The Goring in 1910. Even their century silver service is made of china. David Morgan-Hewitt, Managing Director, says, “It’s all about the quality. Our Centenary Tea Service was made using a wonderful china company and I can assure you they do not dribble. Here, at The Goring, we could hardly dribble on Premiers, Presidents or Duchesses!”